The Theory of the Leisure Class

In Our Time | 14 December 2023 | 0h 55m | Listen Later | Podcasts | Spotify
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen. Veblen picked on traits of the waning landed class of Americans and showed how the new moneyed class was adopting these in ways that led to greater waste throughout society. He called these conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption and he developed a critique of a system that favoured profits for owners without regard to social good. The Theory of the Leisure Class was a best seller and funded Veblen for the rest of his life, and his ideas influenced the New Deal of the 1930s. Since then, an item that becomes more desirable as it becomes more expensive is known as a Veblen good.

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The Economic Consequences of the Peace

In Our Time | 26 October 2023 | 1h 06m | Listen Later | Podcasts | Spotify
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss John Maynard Keynes’ 1919 book The Economic Consequences of the Peace. Backgrounds the Paris Peace Conference and the political and debt considerations that saw the WWI victors impose reparations that Keynes predicted would have disastrous economic consequences for all. Germany used his book to support their claim that the Treaty was grossly unfair, a sentiment that fed into British appeasement in the 1930s, and has since prompted debate over whether Keynes had only warned of disaster or somehow contributed to it.

See also Margaret MacMillan on Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World.

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Homo Erectus

In Our Time | 12 May 2022 | 0h 51m | Listen Later | Podcasts | Spotify
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of our ancestors, Homo erectus, who thrived on Earth for around two million years. Homo erectus spread from Africa to Asia and it was on the Island of Java that fossilised remains were found in 1891 in an expedition led by Dutch scientist Eugène Dubois. Homo erectus people adapted to different habitats, ate varied food, lived in groups, had stamina to outrun their prey; and discoveries have prompted many theories on the relationship between their diet and the size of their brains, on their ability as seafarers, on their creativity and on their ability to speak and otherwise communicate.

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The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

In Our Time | 14 October 2021 | 0h 48m | Listen Later | iTunes | Spotify
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the republic that emerged from the union of the Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 14th Century. At first, this was a personal union, similar to that of James I and VI in Britain, but this was formalised in 1569 into a vast republic, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Kings and princes from across Europe would compete for parliament to elect them King and Grand Duke, and the greatest power lay with the parliaments. When the system worked well, the Commonwealth was a powerhouse, and it was their leader Jan Sobieski who relieved the siege of Vienna in 1683, defeating the Ottomans. Its neighbours exploited its parliament’s need for unanimity, though, and this contributed to its downfall. Austria, Russia and Prussia divided its territory between them from 1772, before the new, smaller states emerged in the 20th Century.

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Herodotus

In Our Time | 23 September 2021 | 0h 52m | Listen Later | iTunes | Spotify
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Greek historian Herodotus (c484 to 425 BC or later) who wrote The Histories about the wars between the Greeks and Persians, inquiring into the deep background of the wars, seeking out the best evidence for past events and presenting the range of evidence for readers to assess.

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Edward Gibbon

In Our Time | 17 June 2021 | 0h 52m | Listen Later | iTunes
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Edward Gibbon, best known for his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (published 1776-89). Decline and Fall covers thirteen centuries and is an enormous intellectual undertaking and, on publication, became a phenomenal success across Europe.

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The Franco-American Alliance 1778

In Our Time | 22 April 2021 | 0h 50m | Listen Later | iTunes
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the treaties France entered into with the United States of America in 1778, to give the USA support in its revolutionary war against Britain and promote French trade across the Atlantic. The French navy played a decisive role in the Americans’ victory, but the fell on French taxpayers, highlighting the need for reforms which in turn led to the French Revolution. Then, when France looked to its American ally for support in the new French revolutionary wars with Britain, Americans had to choose where their longer-term interests lay, and they turned back from the France that had supported them to the Britain they had just been fighting, and France and the USA fell into undeclared war at sea.

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David Ricardo

In Our Time | 25 March 2021 | 0h 49m | Listen Later | iTunes
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of David Ricardo (1772 -1823). At a time when nations preferred to be self-sufficient, to produce all their own food and manufacture their own goods, and to find markets for export rather than import, Ricardo argued for free trade even with rivals for the benefit of all. He contended that existing economic policy unduly favoured landlords above all others and needed to change, and that nations would be less likely to go to war with their trading partners if they were more reliant on each other.

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